June 2016 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Jamie Pedersen

A Tremendous Fighter for Equality

By Theo Angelis


For years, when Jamie Pedersen walked into his neighborhood grocery store, shoppers stopped him and proudly displayed their domestic partnership cards. They told Jamie — often with tears in their eyes — that his work in the Legislature had provided legal protections and recognition for their families they had sought for so long.

But Jamie knew that the domestic partnerships that he helped to create in 2007 were only a half-measure. Beginning in 1996, Jamie had led a team of lawyers at Preston Gates & Ellis (now K&L Gates) that pored over every section of the Washington Code and identified nearly 500 rights and obligations of married couples. When Jamie compiled his list, Washington excluded same-sex couples from all of those rights and obligations.

The 2007 domestic partnership law provided same-sex couples only 11 of the benefits that married couples enjoy. So Jamie and his colleagues — such as senators Ed Murray and Lisa Brown, Speaker Frank Chopp, and House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler — went back to work. In 2008, the Legislature passed (and Gov. Chris Gregoire signed) a law granting domestic partners an additional 160 rights.

The following year, Jamie helped lead the charge for domestic partnerships that offered “everything but marriage.” That resulting bill, which survived a referendum challenge after the governor signed it, took effect in December 2009. It ensured that — within a few years — same-sex couples would enjoy every legal protection that Washington offered to couples but one: marriage itself.

That final hurdle took three more years to overcome. On February 13, 2012, with Jamie beaming behind her, Gov. Gregoire signed legislation that allowed same-sex couples to marry. Once again, a referendum challenge ensued, but as before the people of Washington chose to recognize and celebrate same-sex unions.

It was a proud moment for Jamie, who had wed his husband Eric Cochran Pedersen in 2004 at Central Lutheran Church in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. Nine years after his sacred vows, and six years after the first domestic partnerships, Washington had fully recognized Jamie’s and Eric’s marriage. Perhaps more importantly, Jamie, Eric and their four handsome boys could now enjoy the same benefits and protections as every other Washington family.

To those who knew him, it came as no surprise that Jamie Pedersen was the cheerful warrior at the heart of the careful, pragmatic and relentless campaign for marriage equality. Jamie approaches everything in his life with the same upbeat determination.

Jamie grew up in Puyallup, as a fourth-generation Washingtonian. (His great-grandparents homesteaded in Pacific County in 1888.) He quickly demonstrated his capacity for hard work. His first job was picking raspberries during the summers. And during the school year, he excelled both inside and outside the classroom.

He won the state championship in extemporaneous speaking and he played flute for the Tacoma Junior Symphony, all while earning top grades. He was admitted to Yale College, and he worked at McDonald’s to help pay his tuition and living expenses. He graduated summa cum laude with degrees in Russian and history.

After college, Jamie spent a year living in Russia and collected oral histories of Soviet Afghan war veterans. He then attended Yale Law School and clerked for Judge Stephen F. Williams of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

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